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Double Your Salary: A Chat with Chris Goff
Take a design journey with Motion Designer and School of Motion Teaching Assistant, Chris Goff.
How many motion designers that you know of have a Super Bowl ring? We're betting that number is probably less than 2...
Today the team at School of Motion sat down to chat with Chris Goff about his time with the Patriots, personal projects, and what it's like being a teaching assistant at School of Motion. Chris gets to help many artists learn design and hone their motion design skills, and it seems to be paying off by his incredible work and success. Oh yeah, and he mentions how he doubled his salary in a year.
Let's learn who Chris's heroes are and get a peek at some cool Design Bootcamp work. This interview has a few little nuggets of gold and inspiration ready to take home.
Now let's hope into some sweet Q&A...
Background & Education
Hey Chris, tell us about yourself!
I grew up on a small lake in Massachusetts called Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which…you know…has turned out be a good source of small talk at parties.
I grew up loving movies, books, computers, and drawing. In a sense, all of these passions have sort of come together in motion design, but it took me long time to get here.
How did you become a motion designer?
I never touched any sort of video hardware or software until I was 18. I’m self-taught in that I had to search for my mentors on the internet.
The whole time I was in college (working toward a degree in English), I was making short films with friends and learning everything I could about filmmaking.
In 2011, through a lucky meeting, I heard about a job at the New England Patriots and was brought on as a freelance editor and eventually went full-time. I knew After Effects well enough that I eventually became their unofficial in-house graphics person.
Everything I knew was pretty much from Video Co-Pilot, Mark Christiansen’s Studio Techniques book, and trial and error. The accelerated pace of working during a sports season means you get to make a lot of content very fast and get feedback on your mistakes constantly.
I didn’t really know much about the motion graphics world. I made graphics because I was “the guy who knew After Effects.” But the more I did it, the more I liked it.
Sometime in 2015, I stumbled on Animation Bootcamp. My animation skill jumped very quickly thanks to that and I started to realize that there was the whole other market just for people who did motion design.
In 2016, I went freelance and shortly after started taking Design Bootcamp. That was my real transition from editor to designer/animator.
You have a few personal projects out in the wild, what have you learned from doing those?
Personal projects are sort of a new area for me. I’ve spent the last three years so wrapped up in client work that I eventually realized I hadn’t really done much for myself. I think this is a trap we’re all prone to fall into.
It’s hard to commit to your own stuff when paying work is knocking on the door. But the sad truth for me at least was that most of my client work wasn’t usually reel-worthy.
This year I’ve been recommitting myself to stepping outside of client work occasionally and booking myself.
What has been your favorite personal project so far?
I’ve started a series of design tips which are really based off of the most common things I see pop up with students in Design Bootcamp. Negative space, clear hierarchy, making sure things are readable, etc.
This video on Negative Space was the first part of the series. The most common thing you see teaching assistants say in Design Bootcamp is some variation of “try adding some more negative space”.
New designers almost always try to fill the frame up or make a logo way too big. It takes practice (and maybe someone giving you a little permission) to add empty space to a composition.
Creativity and Career
What has been your favorite client project so far?
I’m sort of cheating with this answer, but I did a small project recently for a friend’s production company. It was an unpaid favor, so I’m using the term client loosely. But I had a lot of creative freedom and had fun coming up with a style that was the right fit.
I learned pretty early on in my career not to get too attached to brand names or where the spot is playing.
I’ve done many national TV commercials and even had a video play in-stadium at the Super Bowl, but none of them are on my reel. Most of them were done under crazy deadlines and small budgets, circumstances that don’t usually end up with the best end result.
For a non-cheating answer, here a fun little project I did last year for Amazon’s Visual Search. It didn’t have a huge budget, but I had just enough time to have some fun with it.
What are some of your career dreams?
When I first started freelancing, my goal was to eventually freelance remotely. After about a year, most of my clients were remote and I had eliminated my commute. It’s hard to get across how big of a change that was.
My whole working life, I’d had an hour-plus commute. Getting rid of that was a complete game changer for me and my life became a lot less stressful. My real career goal is to keep that forward momentum going. I’d like to work better, not longer.
I want to keep learning new skills, keep getting better clients, and keep reminding myself what “enough” is. I’m finding that work-life balance is obtainable as a freelancer as long as you make it a priority.
How did you like Design Bootcamp? Did it help your career?
I loved Design Bootcamp. I felt like Michael Frederick opened my eyes to a world that I’d always been interested in, but never fully understood. It’s a hard course. It’s probably one of the toughest workloads in any of the bootcamps, and I took the beta.
There weren’t any catchup weeks and there were no pre-cut images to work with. The hours were crazy, but I got so much out of it. Plus you just got to watch Mike work, which was fascinating. The guy is just so talented.
I did a case study for a project where you create mock art boards for Premium Beat. Heres an animatic of how they all fit together.
In Design Bootcamp we were tasked to create a :30 second spot about IBM's fictional product: SmartCity. Smart City is basically an entire city networked together to improve safety, energy efficiency, and quality of living.
The goal was to present the product in a friendly way to expel any chance of creepy or Orwellian undertones to what IBM is doing. I lay out all of the final boards on my website if you want to check them out!
Did Animation Bootcamp go well with Design Bootcamp?
Within a year I doubled my yearly salary.
That's amazing! What advice would you give people starting out in motion design?
Live below your means!
If you can save up a few months or more of living expenses as a buffer, it can totally change you relationship to career risk and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Time as a Teaching Assistant
How has being a TA at SOM helped you as a creative?
Working as a TA has been great for keeping myself sharp. When you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to improve a frame, it carries over into your own work.
Of course you also start to notice bad kerning EVERYWHERE.
As a Teaching assistant, what's a recurring theme you see among those who thrive when developing their skills?
The students that thrive are the ones that learn not to be precious about the work they make.
Sometime’s it’s easier to start from scratch on a design project (especially when you’re learning) and when I see that happen, it’s generally a sign that something has clicked in the student’s brain.
It shows that they understand something differently now and what to start over with that new found revelation in mind.
If I see a student only make the exact changes that I suggest in critiques, it’s generally a sign that full understanding hasn’t quite clicked yet or that they might be too attached to the design they made.
Who's an up-and-coming artist that everyone should know?
Care to impart some words of wisdom for those looking to get into animation or for those who have been here for awhile?
Learning animation and design principles puts you ahead of a lot of competition.
It’s easy to look at the work of big studios and MoGraph stars and get discouraged, but you have to remember that they aren’t the norm. I know successful After Effects artists who have never opened the graph editor, make logos the size of the whole screen, and still get plenty of work.
Learning animation and design principles can make you stand out from those artists. And if you already are one of those artists, learning those principles can help compete with the newcomers.
Goals & Inspiration
What are you looking to learn next?
I’m actually hopping into the next session of Advanced Motion Methods. Wish me luck, I’ve heard it’s a tough one.
What are some of your favorite inspiration sources that most artists don't know about?
Go to the library! Most libraries have tons of art books. Old, new, whatever. Just browse around. If you’re sick of the same things popping up on Pinterest or Instagram, go pick up some books.
Outside of motion design, what are some things that get you excited in life?
I’m a total book nerd. I buy them way faster than I can read them, but I don’t care, haha. Every genre, every subject, I love it all.
When I first went freelance, panic sent me down a spiral of business and self-improvement books. Some of them are great, but I think it’s important to remember to balance that out.
It’s too easy to hop from book to book in search for a solution to your problems instead of just getting down to the hard work.
Read fiction or non-fiction that has nothing to do with your business too. That’s the stuff that will spark things in your brain you never expected.
If anyone’s interested, here are some books I’ve read recently that I loved.
Fiction: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell Funny, weird, and heartbreaking. Usually all at the same time. The creativity shown in this book is incredible.
Non-fiction: Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke One of the best books on how to work with/against your cognitive biases.
Self-improvement: Keep Going by Austin Kleon The third book in Kleon’s series on making art. Just get all three.
How can people find your work online?
If you want to reach out connect you can find me online:
Learn Design like Chris!
Are you interested in taking your design skills to the next level? Check out Design Bootcamp here at School of Motion! Design Bootcamp is taught by Mike Frederick, a word-renown designer who has done work for HBO, Discover, and more!